(Bloomberg Opinion) -- European fund management companies spent 2018 watching their share prices steadily decline, battered by increased regulatory scrutiny, customers withdrawing money and the relentless squeezing of fees. They’ve rallied this year, but the industry’s biggest beast in the region is outpacing its peers by an astonishing margin.Investors in Amundi SA have enjoyed a total return of more than 60% in 2019, outpacing the Stoxx Europe 600 index by 35 percentage points. The stock has beaten the 32% gains at DWS Group GmbH and Standard Life Aberdeen Plc, the 39% return for Schroders Plc and Man Group Plc’s 19% rise.Amundi, 68 percent-owned by France’s Credit Agricole SA, recently announced record quarterly inflows of almost 43 billion euros ($48 billion) in the three months through September, breaking a streak of three consecutive quarters of client withdrawals. Its 1.6 trillion euros of assets under management — up from 952 billion euros when it listed on the stock market in November 2015 — make it Europe’s biggest money manager.The most impressive statistic, however, is the one element of Amundi’s financials over which it has most control: its costs.The company’s frugality has nudged its cost-to-income ratio lower in recent years; it fell to an industry-beating 51.1% at the end of the third quarter. By comparison, Deutsche Bank AG-controlled DWS aims to cut its ratio to 65% and doesn’t expect to achieve that until the end of 2021.What could knock Amundi off its perch? Well, DWS Chief Executive Officer Asoka Woehrmann told the Financial Times this month that he plans to challenge his rival’s dominance by finding a takeover or merger that would increase his firm’s 752 billion euros of assets. Earlier this year Switzerland’s UBS Group AG was reported to be considering strapping its fund management arm to DWS. Insurer Allianz SE was also said to be interested in the German investment firm. Any such deal would create a challenger with the scale to match Amundi.But the French fund giant’s CEO Yves Perrier is unlikely to just stand by if industry consolidation begins. Now that he’s finished absorbing Pioneer Investments, a fund management unit bought from Italy’s UniCredit SpA for 3.5 billion euros in 2017, the decks are clear. While these mega-mergers might not happen, Amundi is well placed if they do. With its shares trading at their highest in more than 18 months, Perrier has the currency to fund a deal.To contact the author of this story: Mark Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering asset management. He previously was the London bureau chief for Bloomberg News. He is also the author of "Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.